DAKAR - Congolese security forces evicted illegal miners from a copper and cobalt mine run by Glencore on Thursday and then dispersed them when they protested outside the governor's office, local activists said.
The move by the police and army came one week after a landslide at the Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) concession, majority-owned by a Glencore subsidiary, which killed 43 people, prompting a government pledge to remove the miners.
Glencore said in a statement that Democratic Republic of Congo's army had been deployed to an area around KCC. It said the company had insisted soldiers exercise restraint and respect human rights.
Earlier this week, the miners defied a deadline from the army to leave the mine. Activists said they feared the standoff would lead to violent clashes and human rights abuses.
Emmanuel Umpula, the director of watchdog group African Resources Watch, said that after being evicted, some of the miners protested outside the governor's office in the city of Kolwezi to demand a new concession to exploit and were dispersed by security forces.
Mike Lameki, a human rights activist in Kolwezi, said the miners marched on the governor's office around 7am. After being dispersed, they headed to the neighbourhood of Kasulo.
"On the way, they met up with friends who had come from other parts of town," he said. "Then they started pillaging."
Photos shared by Lameki from one store showed shattered glass and supermarket items strewn across the floor.
Umpula and Lameki both said the security forces had opened fire to disperse the protesters, but it was unclear if they had fired live rounds or rubber bullets.
Army and government officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Rights activists have criticised the planned expulsion, saying it would do nothing to address underlying factors, such as poverty and unemployment, that push people to brave dangerous conditions in mines.
Glencore estimates about 2,000 illegal miners enter KCC every day.
Last week, the army evicted thousands of miners from China Molybdenum's nearby Tenke Fungurume mine.
General John Numbi, who led the operation, said the soldiers did not fire a single shot. African Resources Watch said they did and cited local villagers as saying three people died from gunshot wounds.
Last Thursday's accident at KCC briefly sent Glencore's shares tumbling 7%, underscoring foreign investors' exposure to illegal mining activity on their properties.
The government of Lualaba province estimates that 170,000 informal miners operate in the province. They burrow deep underground with rudimentary tools, leading to frequent accidents.
Congo produces more than half the world's cobalt, a key component in electric car and other electronic batteries, but is one of the world's least developed countries, afflicted by corruption and conflict.Reuters